“Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven”

December 3, 2018 by

A sermon on Malachi 4:1-6, on the eve of COP 24, to take place in Katowice, Poland, 12/3-14/2018

Friends, whatever value you do or don’t place on the prophecies of the Bible, this one really speaks to the condition of our time: the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and it is already burning as an oven in this year’s California wildfires and the record summer heat of the Persian Gulf – 127°F in one city near the shores of Iran. And it’s on track to get worse, our prophets the scientists tell us; – but our rulers, both the civil rulers and the corporate power-brokers that keep them in office, are steadfastly ignoring the scientists’ prophecies, at least in this country, the world’s biggest polluter.

Yes, a great and dreadful day of the Lord is surely coming, and for many of us it’s here already, brought on not by the anger of a wrathful God but – to use an old-fashioned word – by people’s obstinate wickedness. Because what does the Bible tell us about God? God is love! God is of the same character as Jesus, who loved and forgave His enemies even to His own death! God does not desire the death of sinners, but their repentance! This cooking of the earth that we see starting to happen is not, therefore, is not and cannot be, God’s rage at us or disgust with us. Still less is it the result of the non-existence of God, the powerlessness of God, or the indifference of God! So then, what are we to think?

What are we to think? Hear the words of Malachi’s prophecy: – for those willing to live under the government of God, “the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” Like “calves of the stall,” we’ll be healed, protected, kept alive. We aren’t told that we won’t suffer the agony of the heat along with all our neighbors, but we’ll know that the God we trust in loves us and won’t abandon us. Scroll down now to the very end of the Book of Malachi: God will send a prophet, or prophets, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children: what’s more needed now than that we care about our children’s and grandchildren’s need for a livable planet? We, the human race, are in danger of exterminating our descendants. How horrible! How could we answer to God for that? – But is the solution to fund a think-tank to brainstorm a way out, or is the solution to love those descendants more? And if we truly loved them, could we let our biggest single industry, our biggest single contributor to environmental destruction, be war? We call it “defense,” but you and I know that it’s war, it’s bullying by either bloodshed or the threat of bloodshed, and that it’s indefensibly costly to coming generations, and that it’s an attempt to impose a selfish human will, one state’s will, on the world in place of whatever God’s will might be.

The “great and dreadful day of the Lord” can only be an unveiling of what our own selfishness has created, and of how we, the human race, created it: how the way we’ve chosen jobs, bought, invested, voted, defended ourselves, lied to ourselves and others, and let ourselves be lied to, has earned us a dying planet. Our vain attempts to import pleasure and export pain have yielded the evil harvest that was implicit in the sowing of it! But how else can God teach us this truth but by letting us see the natural consequence of our own bad choices?

There is a right way to respond to this unveiling, and a wrong way. The wrong way is to name scapegoats for the unhappy condition we see developing, and try to cure it by attacking those scapegoats or demanding that they desist from evil. The right way is for each of us, individually and then together, to ask to be shown how we ourselves have been at fault. It’s promised that God gives wisdom liberally to those who ask for it (James 1:5). God would not be so cruel as to withhold such liberating knowledge from those who recognize it as essential to their survival.

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“Every kind of thing will be well,” by Brian Drayton

July 4, 2018 by

via Every kind of thing will be well

Who Dares Treat Human Souls as Things without Feelings or Value?

June 29, 2018 by

God loves us all. God wants us, God’s children, to learn to love everyone also.

Jesus, who taught “Love your enemies” and even forgave His own murderers, claimed to be of one will and character with God. Who could understand God’s heart better than Jesus? So when Jesus assures us that God will forgive us our sins if we forgive others their sins against us, we may be confident that God, who wishes to save every soul, wants us also to be kind, merciful, and all-forgiving. In this way we are made fit to inherit God’s own eternal peace and joy.

One of Jesus’ apostles put it simply: God is Love.

But there are some who, as yet, cannot see God this way. These can only imagine a Supreme Deity – if they believe in one at all – who loves a few and rejects the rest. This belief allows some such people to treat their own designated scapegoats cruelly. These seem unable to take to heart the warning that we must reap what we sow – until or unless a sick conscience, now at last coming to be recognized as “moral injury,” leads them to repent and renounce cruelty. But this is to learn the hard way.

Such people need our prayers. If they have taken pleasure in tormenting others, or even given assent in their hearts to a sadistic government policy that kidnaps a nursing infant away from its mother, that pleasure, or complacency, must turn to pain as their souls flee from the light that exposes the evil. This is not divine punishment , but self-punishment, as the Bible itself attests.

We must not wish such pain on them, or on anyone. Wishing others ill only keeps the cycle of vengeance going. Nor may we take satisfaction in the thought of their coming humiliation when they are corrected. They are our brothers and sisters, God’s beloved children, like ourselves. They are ourselves. We are entitled to rebuke and resist them, to warn them, to do all we can to stop them, without resorting to violence. Only by remembering that we wish their repentance and redemption, and not their suffering, can we obey the divine advice to overcome evil with good.

– A tract written for distribution at the Families Belong Together public event in Richmond, Indiana, Seventh Day, 6/30/2018. The printed version has footnotes giving biblical references.

Sheep Having No Shepherd: a sermon

February 28, 2018 by

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. – Matthew 9:36, King James Version

I don’t usually wake up in panic. I did last Wednesday, having the idea that it was already Tuesday, March 6th, and I’d completely forgotten that I was supposed to come to Friends Fellowship Community on March 4th to lead worship. – What? it’s still February? . . . then I’m safe! Within a few minutes I was wondering why I might have dreamed that dream, about forgetting an obligation, letting a lot of people down, and going in a split-second from a normal state of mind to a horrified one. And then I thought: . . . They’ve all lived a long time. They’ll understand. And so I knew what it was I’d talk about today: that helpless feeling of being a sheep without a shepherd.

Actually, the whole world knows that feeling. It’s the feeling of the child separated from her mother in a strange city, the feeling of the flood victim, the refugee, and every person dying. Jesus came to be our Shepherd at such times of helplessness, and if we accept Him then, we’ll be shown that He’s available to guide and protect us at all times: both when we’re feeling strong and happy, and also when we’re feeling sick and confused and weak. Now when I say this, I’m not saying you have to have a certain type of belief about Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not about theology. It’s about crying out in times of desperate need, “Creator, if You exist, hear me and help me!” And about surrendering yourself, asking God’s forgiveness for all the selfish things you’ve said and done, and being willing to be given a new heart, a loving heart, in place of the old, selfish one.

And then you may come to realize that the Ancient Maker of quintillions of suns and planets has listened to you, tiny as you are, and answered you in love. God knows what it’s like to be human like you, because He lives in you and knows your every thought, and He has a way for you to go forward. Always.

Now what does Jesus have to do with all this? As I understand it, Jesus, the Man, experienced oneness with God, and having lived and walked in that oneness, has an eternal existence, as Christ, in which He can help other humans grow toward, and into, that same oneness. The apostle Paul describes Him as the head of a great human Organism, the body of Christ, of which we can function as members (hands, eyes, feet, voice) – if we can put aside living for self and live, instead, for the good of the whole creation. The Head of the body, the Shepherd of the sheep, the Vine from which we branches draw life – Scripture is full of metaphors for Jesus Christ’s relationship to us, His willing followers. Drawn into His life and enjoying the peace of clean consciences, we no longer have meaningless moments, no matter how empty, idle or fruitless they may look from outside, for we are participants in His life, as something inside us always knows.

I’m thinking, for example, of Jesus’ long walk to the cross, commemorated each year during Lent: up the long ascent from Jericho, into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, into the Garden where He was taken into custody by men whose fear-driven hearts were closed to His truth. Two crucifixion stories (Matt 27:51, Mark 15:38) tell of His crying out to God, “Why have You forsaken me?” before dying. But had God really forsaken Him? Were His six hours on the cross meaningless, did He die a failure? Did He and His way of loving enemies and forgiving His persecutors lose, while Caesar’s way of crushing all resistance to a cruel Empire won? Let your own heart tell you the answer. All glory be to Him, and to God His Father, and to the Holy Spirit which teaches our hearts the truth. Amen.

The Everlasting Gospel

January 13, 2018 by

Notes for a sermon to be delivered 1/14/2018

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people…. – Revelation 14:6, KJV

“The everlasting gospel” – the Greek original reads evangélion aiōnion. This could be translated an everlasting gospel, or “good news that always was and always will be.” Early Quakers often spoke of “the everlasting gospel” as the gospel they’d been sent out to preach to the world, not a mere story about Jesus that people might believe or not believe, the way you and I might believe or not believe in global warming or the theory of relativity, but a word from the Savior himself with the power to “abolish death and bring life and immortality to light” (2 Tim 1:10).¹ Think of it as the sound of an alarm clock, which you start to hear in a dream, but it has the power to pull you right out of that dream and into the waking state. This may be what birth was like, and it may be what death will be like: what can you say but “Wow” when what you thought was reality fades away and you find yourself in an all-new reality? “Behold,” says the One on the heavenly throne, “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). This is the good news; this is what Paul must have meant when he wrote that “the gospel… is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16).

Now I’ve only had a little foretaste of this salvation from fear, sorrow, shame, remorse, and the threats of pain and annihilation; I know about it only by faith. I did sit on God’s throne in a dream once, and saw everything become transparent, so that the interior of every created thing and being was revealed – but that was only in a dream. I’ve seen Jesus in dreams, but those could just be figments of my dream-generator. I don’t believe I’ve yet heard the ringing of that gospel alarm-clock I mentioned, that wakes us up into eternity and the presence of our beloved Creator. If I’ve ever consciously stood before God before, I’ve forgotten it, maybe because I chose to love something else, and my “foolish heart was darkened” (Rom 1:19-21).

But this I do know by personal experience: that Christ lives in me. He sees through my eyes, hears through my ears, feels through my heart. He must; otherwise He wouldn’t be able to comment on my experience in words audible in my mind, to give me courage and firmness when I need them, to hear my prayers, to direct my walk to people who need to meet me and then to put good words into my mouth. “Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” asks Paul (2 Cor 13:5). Of course there are people who will tell me that I must be insane, because I’ve heard a voice; and there are people who’ll tell you that I must be hearing the voice of the Devil, because my theology or politics don’t agree with theirs: well, they said that about Jesus, too (Mark 3:22). The point is, once you know that Christ lives in you, your sense of who you are changes forever.

At that point, you’ve heard the Everlasting Gospel. If you’re a Jew or a Muslim or from some other tradition that’s been persecuted by Christians, He may identify Himself by a name more congenial to you, and appear as a “She” or an “It” if that works better for you. He may tell you that your sins are forgiven, He may warn you against a temptation, or reassure you that He won’t let you fall into sin – who can say? – but you won’t forget that voice you heard in your mind, not ever, and you’ll never forget the evidences that He lives in you – and that you live in Him. He’ll remind you (John 14:26).

Now if this hasn’t yet happened to you, and you want it to happen to you, I suggest that you tell Him so. Tell Him you’re willing to give up everything that might stand in the way of it. You may be surprised by how much He lets you keep, even though you now know that it’s all His property, including your own self. If you’re not ready to offer up everything, on the other hand, don’t worry; He has ways of persuading you that it’s a good idea, and a right time in mind to convince you. I’ve found Him very patient. In the end, if you come to Him, you’ll know that it’s only because God’s first drawn you to Him (John 6:44).

¹ George Fox (1624-1691), who associated the everlasting gospel with God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 22:18), wrote that “the Lord God and his son, Jesus Christ, did send me forth into the world, to preach his everlasting gospel and kingdom” (Journal, Nickalls ed., 34-35). Isaac Penington (1616-1679) wrote that “the gospel that was preached to the nations [in earlier times] was not the everlasting gospel; that gospel did not bring life and immortality to light… and men had only a sound of words instead of the thing…. an outward knowledge, a perishing knowledge in the perishing part… which… had no union and fellowship with that which is everlasting” (The Way of Life and Death (1658) in Works, 1:51). Robert Barclay (1648-1690) identifies the everlasting gospel with the commandment to all people to “love [God] in our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves,” commending the “faithful witnesses and evangelists” in “this our age” who direct all people “to come to mind the Light in them, and know Christ in them… so as they… may come to walk in his Light and be saved” (Apology (1678), 167).

A Christmastime Reflection

December 21, 2017 by

The story of Jesus begins and ends with forgiveness: Mark’s gospel begins with John the Baptist’s “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Luke’s ends with Christ’s parting words “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Christ’s commission to Paul is to open the eyes of the Gentiles “so that they may turn from darkness to light… [and] receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18).We humans need forgiveness of sins terribly, not just of the “sins” that can be named and counted, but forgiveness and healing of anything that causes self-loathing in us and sends us looking for a scapegoat, because until then our self-unforgiveness and unforgiveness of others – however masked by denial – are toxic and infectious and keep the world mired in evil, false solutions, and consequent despair. Without real repentance and forgiveness, I believe, social and political action are but a band-aid, and religious programs off the mark; but with repentance and forgiveness, one finds the Pearl of Great Price and can help all come to repentance, which I believe is God’s own desire (2 Pet 3:9).

But cheap repentance and cheap forgiveness are dangerous counterfeits to be shunned. If one looks deeply enough into oneself, one may find an “I” so damaged by being sinned against (especially while the “I” was forming) that it cannot truly say either “I forgive” or “I repent.” Or a guilty soul may find such an overwhelming fear of exposure that self-confrontation is blocked and guilt must go unacknowledged. In such cases the only cure may be God’s intervention. One must invite and welcome it as best one can, however frightening or painful it may prove to be. It may help to reflect that it will probably be no more painful to ourselves than the pain suffered by the One who bore our sins on the Cross. He lives, and is will lend courage and endurance to any who lack it, I believe, as generously as He has lent them to me.

Welcome, Christ, through whom, in whom, and as whom only, I believe, can we recovering sinners discover how infinitely we are loved by our Creator. Amen.

Three Weeks, Three Wishes

January 3, 2017 by

Trump’s scheduled inauguration is only three weeks away now, and people who fear what may happen to the people of this country, and indeed the world, are anxious. It comes to me to remind them, and myself, that we all have the option of prayer.

Now if we are not sure whether there is a God who hears and answers prayer, now is a good time to experiment and find out. If our consciences feel so unclean that we shrink from approaching God, now is a good time to ask God to forgive our sins so that we may dare to approach and ask a further request, which may be – wait, I’ll get to Trump in due time – which may be that God wash us so clean of our sins that we lose the will to sin any further.

Now, if God has heard and answered us, we’re now fit to remain in the Holy Presence and make a third request. If my readers are nervous because this is reminding them of those folk-tales in which the main character is given three wishes and makes bad use of them, now’s the time to ask God’s advice as to how to proceed: should we pray for a change in the outside world or for a further change in ourselves?

Myself, I’m inclined to ask for a further change in myself rather than any outward change in the world. Before asking stones to be turned into bread, it seems wiser to ask for the patience to endure hunger. So I’ve asked to have my faith, hope, and love increased. There’s a precedent for the first one of these requests recorded in Luke 17:5, where the Apostles, as if out of nowhere, ask Jesus: “Increase our faith.”

But why not ask to have our love increased, too? If a Trump presidency seems to threaten a four-year rule of lovelessness, who can remedy that but ourselves? Let’s do an assessment of our present capacity to love: are we finding it hard to love Trump and the people he’s intending to install in positions of power? Remember, loving our enemy doesn’t necessarily mean wanting them to get their way: their getting their own way may be the worst thing that could happen to them. To me, loving Trump means wishing for his repentance, or his speedy removal from office before he earns any more bad karma for himself.

For those of my readers who may have voted for Trump, and who think of “the enemy” as the people opposed to him, are you having trouble loving your enemies? The same principles apply.

Myself, I can see that I need an expanded capacity to love, if only because I anticipate a lot of people getting hurt under a Trump presidency. A lot of us are going to need to start caring for our neighbors more – a lot more. I can’t count on a Trump government to care for them.

As for the gift of hope, I am praying for that very earnestly now. I think you’ll understand why. But I’m reminded that Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you.”

In Everything Give Thanks

November 24, 2016 by

Today I realized that every time I sit to worship God I must locate and name my anxieties, and all the evil situations that I would “fix” if I could, and hold them up to God, saying, “Please take these from me, and give me a concrete assignment that I can actually do.” And I believe I got one, suitable for an old man like me to do today from his computer in Indiana, far away from the front lines in North Dakota:

I’ve seen a photo of an exploded concussion grenade, and a report that the Morton County Sheriff has denied letting his men use them. The photo could, of course, be a fraud on the part of the Water Protectors, but why would people at prayer to the Creator dare to lie in His holy presence? OK, then either (a) the sheriff is lying, or (b) vigilantes or paramilitaries not under his control are using them against the Water Protectors (off-duty deputies? hired goons from DAPL?), in which case he’s failing to maintain law and order. In either case he’s proved himself unworthy of further public trust, and so is the governor who’s backing him up, even in the eyes of the law-and-order advocates that have been supporting them. And if he’s telling the truth that his men haven’t been using them, then (c) there’s a black market in weapons of war that’s allowing civilians to purchase concussion grenades illegally. If this is the case, then there’s no excuse for the Obama Administration not to send in U.S. Marshals to protect the Water Protectors and wipe out that black market, and no excuse for the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and all the TV networks not to rush their top news-crews to the so-called “crime scene” on Route 1806 and explain to the nation what’s really going on there. And this I shall tell them all.

I have no doubt that God will indict the mainstream media executives for hushing up this week’s shameful replay of Wounded Knee. An all-merciful God may forgive, but a just God indicts, and unless they repent quickly, it will be terrible to have to answer for these crimes, these deliberate war crimes of omission decided in boardrooms by comfortable men in suits – who cannot remain comfortable for long. The ridicule and contempt that the U.S. media will be held in by the media in the rest of the world will be as nothing in comparison with the steady direct gaze of the Creator.

Today is Thanksgiving Day, and I wish everyone at Standing Rock – and everywhere – a blessed day and a visitation from the spirit of thankfulness. “In everything give thanks,” advised the Apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:18), advice that sustained me once as I was being taken to the ER with a pain level I was cautiously estimating at 8.5. I knew I must either start shouting obscenities or repeating “Thank You, Lord,” and I can now highly recommend “Thank You, Lord,” or “Thank You, Mother” if you prefer, as a good all-purpose mantra for all occasions when life gets unendurable. I can’t explain what it does or how it works, but there’s heavenly light in it. In all humility, I’d recommend it both to Water Protectors mending from the recent attack and to the guilty attackers, and their accomplices, now standing before the judgment seat of God.

The Election-Eve Prayer Vigil

November 7, 2016 by

There was an Election Day-eve prayer-vigil for the nation tonight, and I was there. I am praying for the healing of a nation that seems, in many ways, broken. You may ask me what I mean by calling it broken: don’t we have food on the grocery-store shelves, intact roads, a stable currency, and public education? Yes, we still do. But there’s been widespread erosion of public trust in our dominant institutions – government, the media, the electoral system – and it’s infected our trust in our neighbor as well. We don’t trust the once-relied-on sources of truth to tell the truth. We don’t trust the traditional guardians and promoters of the common good to care about the common good, or if they do, to understand what it consists of. My neighbor to the East thinks the scientists are lying when they talk of climate change. My neighbor to the West thinks the elections are rigged. To the North, my neighbor thinks the economy is rigged, and hoards gold against the day that the riggers spring the trap on the rest of us. To the South, my neighbor hoards ammunition against the day that everyone becomes an enemy. I have my own mistrusts. The situation is not helped by the many people who, whether on orders from above or in the interests of their stockholders, routinely tell lies and bend the rules in order to make sure that the “right” thing happens: the crude-oil or fracked-gas pipeline goes through, the new pesticide gets approval, the for-profit prison continues to get an uninterrupted supply of able-bodied inmates. Fortunately, the one authority-figure I trust remains in authority, and I vote for that fair, merciful, always-truthful, and almighty Person every day when I say, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.”

I Abstain from Voting

October 27, 2016 by

I’m a Friend who’s felt personally called to lay down voting. I can’t, in any case, vote for any candidate empowered to authorize the use of lethal violence against anyone, or I become a killer by proxy, thereby unfit to be a member of Christ (Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 6:15, 1 Cor 12:27, Eph 5:30), who taught love and forgiveness of enemies, the Lamb who died before He would hurt another person. But I vote every day for God to remain the world’s almighty ruler when I pray “Thy kingdom come.” It’s not just a figure of speech. Please think about that, Friends, as you read this excellent article by Paul Buckley:

Why Quakers Stopped Voting

I should add that my witness against voting (which is partly an outgrowth of my call to be a hands-on healer, which I saw required me to relinquish all adversarial positions vis-a-vis the people I might be asked to pray for – cf. 2 Tim 2:24) doesn’t stop me from demonstrating and entreating, and from fasting and praying for good secular government at election time. At the upcoming election I’ll be praying particularly for the healing of our multiply divided and spiritually wounded nation.